The River Is Dark - Joe Hart

"The monster is killing my parents". (um...Eek!)

So Eric, a young boy hiding under a bed upstairs, tells the 911 operator as a horrific crime is committed in his home. 

Miles away, former police detective Liam Dempsey wakes to another day where his first decision is whether or not to use the gun in his closet. He's interrupted by a phone call informing him his brother & sister in law have been murdered in their home outside a small town in Minnesota. He & Allen had a contentious relationship & haven't spoken in years.

Upon arrival, he learns another couple were recently killed in a similar fashion. Only their son survived.

The soon to retire Sheriff Barnes & a couple of BCA agents are strangely economical with information & Liam quickly decides to do his own snooping. 

Also in town is Dani Powell, cousin to Allen's wife & a former crush of Liam's. She insists on helping him investigate & as the body count rises they have their hands full.

The only other game in town is the prospective sale of an old mill to a big conglomerate & some of the locals are less than thrilled with their plans for land surrounding the area. Money is secretly changing hands & the company just wants the murders & subsequent publicity to go away.

This is a story about secrets, how they can never be buried deep enough & the damage inflicted when they inevitably surface. 

Liam has hidden from the events that led him to leave the force. But they find him in his nightmares & he deals by sharing a solitary existence with alcohol & a loaded weapon.

Allen's secret was a favour he did for friends, one that has literally risen from the grave to exact permanent revenge.

Eric's parents had several secrets. They lived their lives confidant in the belief that the past was just that & look what happened to them.

This is a tightly plotted thriller that begins as a murder mystery then soon slides into the realm of Creepy (yes, a capital C).

On the plus side, it's an atmospheric read, dark & brooding. There's an overall sense of menace & you can't help feeling if you could just turn the pages a little faster, you'd finally catch a glimpse of the evil always lurking on the periphery. Liam is a sympathetic "hero", a good man who made a terrible mistake & still feels the pain of being rejected by his big brother (who was a dick, by the way). His character is a mixture of smart but broken man & hurt little boy. You desperately want him to find a smidgeon of joy in his life, a reason to take the bullets out of his gun. 

On the minus side, some of the other characters are less well defined & stereotypical. The mayor is portrayed as a greedy, power hungry pol, unburdened by decency. Dani comes off as bland & a tad too goody-2-shoes & thus commits the ultimate crime for a fictional character...she's boring. And when the murderers are revealed & their story told, you officially arrive at the outer limits of weird where credibility is stretched to the max. Liam & Dani's death defying final encounter with the killers plays out like a scene rejected from the script of "Die Hard' for being too OTT. 

While I had some problems with some of the cast & the beautifully wrapped ending, if the author wrote a sequel featuring the main character, I'd probably pick it up to see where life has taken him. And if his gun is still loaded.